Leaked tapes of Belgium's Cardinal Godfried Danneels urging a victim not to reveal he was sexually abused by a bishop are some of the most damaging documents to emerge in the scandal rocking the Catholic Church worldwide.
On the tapes, made secretly by the victim and published in two Belgian newspapers at the weekend, the former primate of Belgium is heard exhorting him to accept a private apology or wait one year until the bishop retired before making his case public.
The meeting took place on April 8, at a time when the Vatican was under fire for allegedly covering up similar abuse cases in other countries.
A spokesman for Cardinal Danneels (77) denied the once popular archbishop of Brussels wanted to cover up the case -- which led to the sudden resignation of then Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe (73) later that month -- but the tapes show the cardinal arguing for silence.
Belgian church spokesman Jurgen Mettepenningen confirmed the transcripts in Flemish dailies 'De Standaard' and 'Het Nieuwsblad' were genuine.
The church has been hit over the past year by two detailed government reports on sexual abuse in this country and waves of abuse allegations in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. Five bishops have quit due to the scandals.
The Belgian tapes stand out as a rare verbatim record of how a leading Catholic prelate tried to persuade a victim, in this case a 42-year-old nephew of Vangheluwe, to keep quiet.
They emerged as a judicial probe into the scandal teetered on the edge of collapse after reports that a June 24 police raid on church offices and Cardinal Danneels's apartment to seize files and computers was illegal and the documents could not be used.
In their one-on-one meeting, the victim asks for help. The cardinal responds by urging him not to go public.
"The bishop will resign next year, so actually it would be better for you to wait," the cardinal says. "I don't think you'd do yourself or him a favour by shouting this from the rooftops."
Cardinal Danneels warns the victim against trying to blackmail the church and urges him to seek forgiveness, accept a private apology from the bishop and not drag "his name through the mud".
"He has dragged my whole life through the mud, from five until 18 years old," says the victim. "Why do you feel so sorry for him and not for me?"
In a second tape, Cardinal Danneels and Vangheluwe meet the victim and one of his relatives. The bishop apologises and says he has searched for years for a way to make up for his misdeeds. "This is unsolvable," the relative replies. "You've torn our family completely apart."
Vangheluwe resigned on April 23. The newspaper said the victim decided to publish the tapes to counter allegations of blackmail.